Damien Parer, ‘Mr Harold Herbert, official artist with the 2nd AIF. Reference number: 008639 Damien Parer, Mr Harold Herbert, official artist with the 2nd AIF.
008639

Date of birth: 16 September 1891
Place of birth: Ballarat, Victoria
Date of death: 11 February 1945
Place of death: Melbourne, Victoria

Harold Brocklebank Herbert was a painter, illustrator, art teacher, art critic and war correspondent. He attended the Ballarat School of Mines and later taught there, but abandoned teaching in 1919. He corresponded with and twice visited the artist Hans Heysen for instruction. Early in his career Herbert became known for his extraordinary skill in the manipulation of watercolour washes.  From 1922-23 he travelled and painted in England, France, Spain and Morocco and on his return to Australia participated in regular exhibitions and worked in commercial illustration and poster design.  He was also an art critic for the Argus and the Australasian which brought him status and financial reward.  From 1926 until his death, Herbert was a member of the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board and also belonged to the Australian Artists’ Association, Australian Watercolour Institute, NSW Society of Artists and the Victorian Artists' Society.

A friendship with Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Blamey resulted in Herbert's appointment as an official war artist in 1941. Through a memorandum to the War Cabinet in early January 1941, Blamey urged for the appointment of two official war artists, indicating: “Palestine is a land of wonderful colour which lends itself particularly to the water-colourist.  May I suggest that you send out Herbert on a six months’ engagement of to paint the A.I.F. life as it is at present”.  Thus Herbert, along with Ivor Hele, was appointed one of the first official war artists of the Second World War.  On 5 March 1941, Herbert flew out from Sydney and, at the age of 49, joined the Australian Imperial Forces in the Middle East.

Harold Herbert, ‘Troops bathing, Gaza Beach’, 1941, watercolour and pencil on paper, Reference number: ART30049 Harold Herbert, Troops bathing, Gaza Beach, 1941,
ART30049

As an official war artist Herbert was given the Press Correspondent number B3/38, and the status and the uniform of an officer without rank.  Elevated through his friendship with Blamey and supported with a batman-driver and a truck, Herbert had excellent access across Allied-held territory.  He was in Syria and Lebanon during the 5-week Syrian campaign of June and July 1941.  Herbert trailed the action, completing watercolours of distant fighting at a hillside town in Merdjayoun, post battle destruction in Destroyed bridge at Damour, and lonely graves marked with white crosses in Anywhere along the coast road.  He also travelled through Palestine and Egypt, drawing the vast empty deserts and the Mediterranean coast line, village scenes and military encampments, transport columns and anti-aircraft defences. 

After completing his 6-month appointment, Herbert returned to Australia at the start of September 1941. As per his contract, the Memorial selected 50 works for the National Collection, but also purchased an additional 25. These watercolours and pencil drawings are considered among his most brilliant works, full of light, atmosphere and action.  A year later an exhibition of Herbert’s Middle East watercolours was held at the Sedon Galleries in Melbourne, and until 1944 he was an accredited war correspondent for the Australasian.  A known heavy drinker, Herbert died in 1945.  That same year, the National Gallery of Victoria held a memorial exhibition of his life’s work. 

Harold Herbert, Merdjayoun, 1941, watercolour over pencil heightened with white on pencil, Reference number: ART30059 Harold Herbert, Merdjayoun, 1941,
watercolour over pencil, heightened with white on pencil.
ART30059

Harold Herbert, Destroyed bridge at Damour, 1941, watercolour over pencil, heightened with white on paper on hardboard, Reference number ART30067

Harold Herbert, Destroyed bridge at Damour, 1941,
watercolour over pencil, heightened with white on paper on hardboard.
ART30067